My last two posts at the Atlantic:
My latest at Daily Life looks at what it would mean to create egalitarian, feminist-friendly “pick-up” ethics. I chatted with Clarisse Thorn, Arden Leigh, Mark Manson and Michael Kimmel for their insights. Excerpt:
If there are to be such things as feminist pick-up ethics, they’ll have to be as much about empowering women to take the sexual initiative as about encouraging men to be honest and respectful. The reality is that getting what you want from whom you want it can be as challenging for women as for men. Just as men need to work, as Kimmel says, on “acting ethically”, women deserve the tools to act boldly…
The worst of the pick-up artists insist that men and women want such radically different things that only the cynical mastery of manipulation techniques will lead to happiness. The good news is the emergence of a different model for men and women alike, based on mutuality, kindness and willingness to prioritise other’s boundaries as well as one’s own pleasure.
To put it more simply, this new model rests on the idea that men and women aren’t adversaries, but collaborators. Even, perhaps, friends.
I’ve written about my Navigating Pornography course before (I Don’t Need to Know if You Masturbate), but today at the The Atlantic, I give a little overview: I Teach a College Class on How to Think and Talk about Pornography.. Excerpt:
Even more than history lessons and an introduction to feminist debates, my students need and deserve the tools to combat sexual shame. I never ask how many of my students use pornography, nor do I inquire about any of their other sexual habits. A safe classroom environment hinges on respect for students’ right to privacy. I don’t need to pry, however, to hear stories—as I invariably do—about confusion, guilt, and fears of “addiction” to porn. Millennials may be more tolerant of sexual diversity than earlier generations, but many grow up in homes where masturbation—which is, after all, almost inextricably linked with pornography viewing—is still seen as shameful or sinful. Many worry that they watch porn too much, or watch the “wrong kind,” while quite a few have had bitter arguments with romantic partners over the ethics of porn use in a committed relationship.
Students need more than history and theory. They need safe spaces to think through—and in some instances, talk through—their fears, desires, and uncertainties. When it comes to a subject like porn, a safe space means a place where they won’t be judged, mocked, or sexualized regardless of what they reveal. Of course my classroom is not a therapist’s office and I am not a therapist. The safe space they choose to talk through those fears, desires, and uncertainties probably won’t be in class, in front of me and their fellow students. What I want them to take from my class is a vocabulary with which to initiate the conversations so many people find impossible to start. For better or worse, we live in a world seemingly permeated by the pornographic. In such a culture, there are few more valuable skills than the capacity to talk with candor and insight about what turns us on, gets us off, shapes and shames us.
I’ve got a second contribution up at Jewrotica today: I Can Read You with My Fingertips: Scars, Ink, Sex, and Leviticus. It may be a little triggering to some who’ve had issues with self-mutilation.. and a little PG-13 in terms of sexual description. Here’s how it finishes:
My ex-lover Amy, one of the first women I slept with in my early sobriety, was the first to find evident erotic delight in my scars. I’m grateful that she didn’t turn out to be the last. As I learned to have sex without the crutch of drugs and alcohol, I also learned not to flinch from curious fingers and playful tongues as they explored the marks on my skin. “I can read you like Braille,” one woman said; “all these stories at my fingertips.” I shuddered in gratitude when I heard that.
My four year-old, Heloise likes to sit beside me as I read her a book, or as we watch Scooby-Doo. In recent months, she’s made it clear she wants to sit on my left side so that she can explore the scars on that forearm. While she listens to me read, or gazes at the television, her little fingers rhythmically and repetitively trace the bumps and raised lines. Heloise knows only that they are marks “where abba got hurt;” she’s years away from hearing how or why. There is of course nothing sexual about her caress. But my own ability to sit still and welcome that gentle touch from my child grew out of what I learned from the lovers who loved on my scars with their hands and mouths.
My face is weather-beaten and lined from years of running in the sun and the wind. My arms and torso carry the innumerable marks of a chaotic and hard-lived youth, and though they may not be beautiful to many, they are treasures to me. When I meet G-d at the end of things, I will meet him with this battered body. Returning to the faith of my ancestors, I will go down to the grave as a scarred, tattooed Jew.
As a man who writes and teaches about gender, I’m often asked for examples of good male feminist allies. In no particular order, here are just ten — some well known, some not — of the many whose work I admire and recommend. Not all would call themselves feminists, but all have a tremendous and demonstrated track record of support for women’s equality — and an equally strong commitment to transforming men.
2. Jay Smooth, founder of New York’s longest running hip-hop radio show and a veteran “v-logger” who often focuses on gender issues and sexual violence.
4. Michael Messner, USC sociology professor currently conducting (with his graduate students) a comprehensive study of male anti-violence activists from the 1970s to the present.
5. Michael Kaufman, veteran activist and author of Man Talk: What Every Guy Oughta/Gotta Know About Good Relationships, which is now available by request FOR FREE.
8. Allan Johnson, activist, speaker, and author of The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy.
9. Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior Atlantic editor and columnist whose analysis of race, class, and yes, sexual politics is nonpareil.
10. Buck Angel, pornographer, transgender activist, inspirational speaker whose very body raises — and answers — questions about what it means to be a man.
I don’t often put up poetry any more, but I want to make an exception this week to promote the new book from my friend Rachel Barenblat (also known as the Velveteen Rabbi.) I had a few of her lovely offerings up on my old Thursday Short Poem series, and I’m excited to announce her new poetry collection Waiting to Unfold. Rachel wrote one poem a week during the first year of her son’s life — and she beautifully captures the wonder, the fear, the exhaustion, and the surges of stupendous love of new parenthood. “Waiting to Unfold” would make a most excellent Mother’s Day Gift.
Here’s one of my favorites:
AND THEN THERE ARE THE DAYS
when nothing is easy
your dad drives away at dawn
you wail through your diaper change
the formula in your bottle is too hot
you push my hands away and flail your feet
when I try to fasten your corduroys
the days when you decide that naps
are for other babies
and the cat’s tail looks enticing
and none of the food I put on your tray
appeals to you at all, except the cheese
and maybe the sliced banana
and the stroller is confining
but the floors of our house are dull
you’ve already crawled every inch
of this kitchen, it holds no secrets
and the Hungarian dvds won’t play
and darkness falls too soon
when you howl through the potluck
and throw your Cheerios on the floor
and I try to tell the other parents
he’s not usually like this
but they don’t believe me
though at least they are kind
even on days when I can’t wait
to glide your pocket door shut
and pour myself a fishbowl of red wine
my heart still swells two sizes
as I collect the colored plastic cups
you’ve strewn across the living room
I’m happy to say I’m going to be doing some writing for the Atlantic’s online Sexes section. My debut column went up yesterday: The Benefits of Men and Women Being Friends, Even if One Is Married. Excerpt:
One of the most famous examples of class distinctions in Vance Packard’s hugely influential 1959 bestseller, The Status Seekers, focused on how two married couples would sit when traveling together in a car. Working-class couples would put the men in front and the women in back to emphasize male domination, Packard wrote, while middle-class couples would sit husbands and wives together in order to emphasize the centrality of the marriage bond. For affluent couples, however, the “right thing” would be to pair the husband from one couple with the wife from another in order to enable flirtation and a frisson of erotic excitement.
Packard’s explanation popped into my head more than once as I attended and took part in last month’s Bold Boundaries conference in Chicago. Organized by evangelical Christians but featuring speakers and participants from many other backgrounds, Bold Boundaries challenged the assumption that Packard and many others make: that cross-sex friendships are always charged with sexual tension and danger. Men and women can be friends, every presenter at the conference argued, and not just with their spouses. In a gesture that indicates just how far evangelicalism has evolved, almost every presenter acknowledged the heteronormative framing of the whole discussion, with several pointing out that straights had much to learn from gays and lesbians about navigating friendship. The idea that lust makes platonic friendship impossible between straight men and women was, participants insisted, as antiquated as the cars in which Packard’s subjects arranged themselves more than half a century ago.
I’m no longer writing at Jezebel, but I have new posts up this week elsewhere.
At Daily Life Australia, I respond to the claim by a New York Magazine columnist that testosterone was the ultimate cause of the Boston bombings. Excerpt:
rom Chechnya to Cambridge, Massachusetts, boys are raised to see “seeking help” as something feminine, and therefore to be avoided. When boys are beaten and mocked for showing weakness, they hide their vulnerability.
When they’re praised for aggression and taking foolish risks, they learn that recklessness and violence are key to establishing their masculine credentials. Our young men are not consumed with anger because they’re at the mercy of their hormones, but because they’ve been denied access to any emotion other than rage.
You don’t have to believe that “nature” has no impact on human behaviour in order to argue that “nurture” (how we raise our children) offers an equally important influence. Hormones are part of our human hardwiring, but socialisation is what teaches boys when and how to direct the aggressive, protective, sexual urges that testosterone creates.
Impulses may be rooted in biology, but how those impulses manifest has everything to do with culture. Create a culture in which boys have options other than violence and they will become less violent; create a culture in which women can pursue intellectual, sexual, and sporting ambitions, and they will become far more frank about what it is they want and how badly they want it.
And at Role/Reboot, responding to the latest woman-bashing alarmism about delayed marriage. Excerpt:
If there’s a consistent lament from anti-feminist social conservatives like Wilcox, Hymowitz, and Carroll, it’s that the expansion of the (admittedly fragile) safety net since the 1960s has displaced men from their traditional roles as protectors and providers. It’s why so many angry white men vote Republican—they imagine that they’ve been cuckolded by wily liberal Democrats who’ve seduced middle-class women with feminist theory and working-class women with welfare. Rather than working to wriggle out of the Protector/Provider/Patriarch straitjacket, young men like Chris the welder fall into self-pitying depression and conservative sociologists like Wilcox wring their hands over picky unmarried women who have lost the ability to distinguish “good men from bad.” Men derive their identity from women’s dependency, the authors of Knot Yet imply, and the refusal of so many women to return to that natural state of vulnerability threatens the happiness of children and the stability of society itself.
The Knot Yet study is right to note that there are a wide variety of social and economic factors driving these dramatic changes in American marriage and reproductive practices. And though their goal of making “family life more stable for children” may be a worthy one, it’s a shame that they see that stability as contingent more on a lowering of female expectations than upon male transformation.
This week, I have a piece up at Role/Reboot: The Real Problem with Sexualization Isn’t Victoria’s Secret. Excerpt:
Sexualization is a very real problem. The backlash against it, however, can lead to the pathologizing of any and all interest in beauty, fashion, or traditionally feminine sports like cheer, dance, gymnastics, and figure skating. In the rush to make sure that girls have role models who aren’t primarily concerned with beauty, we risk labeling those girls who are interested in cultivating their appearance as either frivolous or victimized. When the APA calls for a culture that rewards accomplishments “based on young people’s abilities and character rather than on their appearance” (emphasis mine), they perpetuate a frustratingly false dichotomy. It’s the modern iteration of the lie that a girl can’t be both pretty and smart: In this new paradigm, you can’t care about your looks and be empowered at the same time. Achieving the latter means letting go (or pretending to let go) of any interest in beauty and sexiness.
Much of the anxiety about sexualization is really about outsourcing adult men’s self-control to the bodies of young girls. The real sexualizers aren’t the marketers, but the older boys and men who are unwilling to distinguish grown women from children. Men aren’t nearly as weak, stupid, or easily deceived as we like to imagine. We fret about sexualization because we fret that grown men will, inevitably, see a short skirt, or a t-shirt with a provocative message, as an invitation—even on the body of a 12-year-old. That sells men woefully short. It’s not an overask—really, it isn’t—to expect adult men to see a 14-year-old in heels and makeup as still a child. The problem is less girls’ self-objectification and more adult men’s refusal to stop using that supposed self-objectification as an excuse to be predatory creepers.
Buzzfeed came and did a story on my Navigating Pornography course, producing a three-minute video that’s gotten some nice coverage.
In all the intense media focus on this course, what’s lost is a point I try to make to every reporter with whom I speak: these courses are not new. I may be the first professor to teach a course on pornography at Pasadena City College, but I’m building on the groundbreaking work of folks like Constance Penley and Linda Williams, the real pioneers in this field.
My radio interview on Los Angeles’s KROQ